Islamophobia the tie that binds disparate right-wing groups
Spinwatch exposes links between pro-Israeli groups and Islamophobic British think-tanks
For the Spinwatch report, click here
By Dr. Hanan Chehata, Middle East Monitor
There is no doubt that attempts to whip up Islamophobia are on the rise and there certainly seems to be an atmosphere of intolerance and racism gaining traction here in the UK. While it is easy to point the finger of blame at racist far-right groups such as the BNP and “the Zionist false flag operation” the EDL (as the BNP call them) (p32) as a major source for stirring up such unnecessary hatred, a new report published by Spinwatch attempts to trace the source of some of this Islamophobia to its more subversive roots, particularly to groups and agencies which purport to be moderate British think-tanks but which instead serve Israeli interests and promote a clearly Islamophobic agenda.
The Spinwatch Report “The Cold War on British Muslims” focuses on two such groups; Britain’s influential Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) and the group Policy Exchange. The report looks at the motivational ethos behind these organisations; traces some of the funding sources behind them; as well as looking at the background of some of its staff members drawing connections between them and other anti-Islamic and pro-Israeli organisations. It also looks at some of the more controversial reports compiled by these organisations which clearly demonstrate the anti-Islamic agenda driving them.
The Spinwatch report draws parallels between how left wing groups, peace activists and trade-unionists were targeted by anti-subversion agencies in the 1960’s and 1970’s and their seeming nostalgia for such an era of political subversion policies to return by calling for the targeting of politically engaged Muslims, liberals and leftists today.
The Centre for Social Cohesion was established in 2007 as a project of Civitas and the group has a major preoccupation with the threat from “Islamic terrorism”. It is staffed by people like Douglas Murray (its Director) who have “established a reputation as a critic of Islam” bolstered by statements he has made like “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board; Europe must look like a less attractive proposition.” To compound this ethos of an anti-Muslim agenda in April it was announced that: “the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) has combined together with the London-based think tank The Henry Jackson Society, who share the same philosophy as the CSC in addition to their broader mission statement.” This “philosophy” of which they speak includes a clear history of promoting the Israeli narrative in its choice of speakers, events and so on and that attempting to dismiss and slur the Palestinian perspective.
The Spinwatch report outlines some of the various fronts on which CSC has tried to attack Muslim individuals and organisations. They have tried, for instance, many times in the past to target the British charity Interpal but failed miserably as they had no way to equate the charitable acts with which Interpal were engaged with terrorism, no matter how hard they tried. It clearly illustrates their pro-Israel agenda that on the one hand CSC would repeatedly target a British charity which tries to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid to Palestinians but then at the same time many of their financial backers are also donating to charities such as the UK Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers. Given Israel’s status as a military occupier of the Palestinian territories and given its soldiers’ daily breaches of international law it is reasonable to ask if the same efforts to investigate the charitable works of Interpal have gone into looking at who these IDF soldiers are and whether or not any of them are guilty of committing war crimes. Unlikely, and as such the CSC’s lack of objectivity is clearly displayed; demonise Palestinian organisations and perspectives while having links to Israeli ones without question, no matter how criminal the Israeli acts may have been.
Another example of donors who support CSC is The Traditional Alternatives Foundation (TAF) run by Lord Kalms a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel and vocal critic of those he feels do not support Israel enough. A staunch supporter of Israel Lord Kalms was highly critical of Foreign Secretary William Hague when during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon Hague called the Israeli invasion “disproportionate”. Kalms has also been a vocal critic of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calling on him to resign for not providing enough support to Israel (p38). The fact that people like Kalms are helping to bankroll the CSC and hold such strong views about the state of Israel make it very unlikely that the CSC are able to provide fair and balanced reports, as they claim to do. Instead they are undoubtedly influenced by a heavy pro-Israel agenda which also translates into an anti-Islamic one too.
The list goes on. Funding has also been received from The Family Foundation Trust whose other beneficiaries include the right wing UK Friends of the IDF. Another donor, The Charles Wolfson Foundation, has also funded groups like the Israeli-Diaspora Trust and the Anglo-Israel Association. The Lewis Family Charitable Trust has donated to Policy Exchange and has also donated to The United Jewish Israel Appeal and the Zionist Federation (p38-9). The New Heritage Foundation is another donor and was headed by the hard-line Zionist Cyril Stein. Cyril was such an extreme Zionist that he funded an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank, has donated “thousands of pounds to an Israeli charity dedicated to building on occupied Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and in 2005 withdrew his support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in protest over the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from Gaza.”(p40) There is no way that organisations and individuals like this would be donating to a group like CSC unless they were getting something they were happy with in return, such as the promotion of the Israeli agenda and the demonization of Muslims. These links all show where roots for these anti-Islamic think tanks lie and largely explain the drive to push an Islamophobic agenda and the role of pro-Israeli lobbyists in fuelling it.
In terms of the tactics CSC have used to promote their counter-jihad discourse, they range far and wide but have even included by targeting British libraries. In fact their very first report was called “Hate on the State: How British Libraries Encourage Extremism” which complained about the amount of Islamic material stocked in several UK libraries.
CSC similarly target universities in their report “Islam on Campus: A Survey of UK Student opinions”. As Spinwatch point out, the CSC report draws parallels between the targeting of left wing activities in the 1960-70s and the targeting of Islam today. Thus where “Left-wing activity in the universities was a central concern of cold-war counter-subversion ideology… it is not surprising that universities have also been a key focus for the Centre for Social Cohesion.” (p27) CSC are said to have employed the use of flawed and slanted polls that tend to overstate the responses from Muslims to make the answers seem more dramatic than they perhaps are as part of their overall attempt to exaggerate the threat and thus fear of politically engaged Muslims while in other places downplaying any reports of Islamophobia. (p28)
Policy Exchange, which was established in 2002 by a group of Conservative MPs, has also targeted the educational system and has focused on Faith Schools in their report “Faith Schools We Can Believe In”. They acknowledge that “Non-violent extremism” is “extremely difficult to pin down and illuminate in a society which is committed to free speech” and they therefore suggest a list of criteria to help identify trouble spots (p52). However, looking at their proposed criteria it seems that this is simply a way to suppress all voices and opinions opposed to wars waged by Imperialist nations and most of their criteria “relate to war and political violence and are no doubt intended to target the critics of the wars and occupations of the US, Britain and Israel.”
The Spinwatch report concludes that the sorts of policies and agendas pushed by groups such as CSC and Policy Exchange will mean that British Muslims, “a community already facing routine vilification, racial intimidation and violence would potentially face even greater monitoring, intimidation and harassment by the state. Furthermore the Islamophobic undercurrent of such policies simultaneously risks further fuelling the racist violence against Muslims perpetrated by groups like the British National Party and the English Defence League – ironically the very extremism that organisations like the Centre for Social Cohesion and Policy Exchange claim to oppose.”
The agenda for groups that engage in the counter-jihad movement is clearly “a coalition in which US militarists, the Christian right, European far-right nationalists and militant Zionists all play central roles, along with a variety of other sectarians.” The British think-tanks named in this report are no different, and their anti-Islam and pro-Israel agenda may not have been directly stated by them but is clear from their words actions and from looking at those who not only work within their ranks but who ultimately fund and control them and their agenda.